My brain isn’t working & Book Series

So. For those of you that check back here weekly, you may have noticed something last week. There was no blog. What happened is Dave and I texted back and forth about it. We discussed what I was going to write about. And my brain checked it off my to do list. I honestly thought I had written a blog. Until Dave messaged me on Monday asking about it. Or maybe Tuesday. So, my apologies.

Then my brain -almost- did it again for this week. But, I remembered now!

I am still making my way through Don Quixote. So, I decided to take a few minutes to talk about a few series of books I like. Just in case any of you are in love with series and knowing you like a certain set of characters enough to read multiple books with them. And since winter is fast approaching, you might want something long that you can read on all the cold nights coming our way.

First, my absolute favorite series is Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. This has been my favorite series for years and years. Long before Starz created a series of it. The premise of it is that in 1945, Claire Randall is on holiday in Scotland with her husband Frank, after years of being separated by the war. They are reconnecting. There is a small standing stone circle. It’s right near Beltaine. She falls through the stones and ends up in 1743. She’s forced to marry Jamie Fraser there for her protection. And so begins the conflict of loving two men in two very different times. The books go through the Scottish Uprising of 1745, to the 1960s, to the American Revolution. There are multiple books and Gabaldon researches her stories well. She writes humorous scenes interspersed with scenes of touching simplicity that will make you tear up, to dramatic battle scenes. Her characters become real to you and walk beside you. After book 3, there is a series that goes along the side with one of the characters, more like mysteries. She treats all subject matter with an openness and sensitivity that’s gorgeous. These are more than romance, more than historical fiction. They just…are.

Second, I will just put in a blurb about Game of Thrones here. Almost all of you will have had some exposure to it by now. But, I also recommend the books. But, maybe wait a few more months then you might be able to finish about the time Martin finishes the next one.

Third, another fantasy series, for those of you that are a bit more hardcore into fantasy, is the Gardens of the Moon series by Stephen Erikson. These are amazing books, but be prepared to have to read them back to back. There are so many intricate story lines between all books that I find them more complicated than Game of Thrones. But, if you love fantasy and still haven’t read these, pick them up.

Fourth, Kelley Armstrong has a series of books that start with Bitten, which is now a show that you can find on Netflix. I have read quite a few paranormal series and thoroughly enjoyed this one. It starts out with the only female werewolf in the whole world as the main character for the first two books, then starts to switch narrators. The center of the story is a young witch named Savannah, but Briggs doesn’t show that until the 2nd and into the 3rd book. Then the whole series has a nice beginning, middle, and end.

Fifth, my absolute favorite paranormal book series though is The Hollows series by Kim Harrison. The basis is, a witch, a living vampire and a pixy are running a detective agency. And yes, it’s as fun as it sounds with that. But there’s also real depth and soul to these books as well. Again, there is a nice arc to the books and while I wasn’t overly excited by the last book of the series, it was still a decent conclusion.

I’ll end here, just to give myself a few more for a couple of years down the road to recommend more. If you have any you’d like to add, or want to comment on any after you read, please feel free to drop us a line 😀

Tune in on Thursday! (It’s Dave’s turn, so you can rely on it being Thursday).

Have a great rest of your weekend!

 

 

 

 

Beloved by Toni Morrison

This is late. So very, very late. My apologies, I was trying to get through a different book and wasn’t able to finish in time. I switched to Beloved and read it as quickly as I could in order to talk to you guys about it.

I still have no clue where my Top Ten book walked off to this time.

I have not had a lot of sleep in two days so I feel a bit foggy right now, just an observational thing I felt you all needed to know.

I urge you to read Beloved if you have not already. I do not urge you to read Beloved if your stomach or mind are not equipped to deal with violence. Because in some things, Beloved is brutal. It is a story told over a decade after the Civil War. It is a story told about the present of former slaves as well as their past while still in slavery. Morrison drips description and metaphor alike from the page until you are as immersed in it as one of the characters is in an “emerald closet” (a bunch of shrubs that have formed a small hidden room) she uses as a play room and a dream escape as she grows older. So, when Morrison describes one of the characters telling about having an iron bit in his mouth, it’s not just “hm, ok, random detail to get over to get to the rest of the story”, you can taste the metal in your mouth and feel the skin at the corners of your mouth going tender and stretched out.

The story is about a house. A house that has a vengeful baby ghost in it, the toddler daughter of one of the main characters who died very young. A man from her past comes in the beginning of the book and chases the spirit off. The daughter that lived is upset about this, Denver. Her mother, Sethe, Denver and the man, Paul, they go to a carnival in town for Negroes. On the way home, Sethe sees their shadows with linked hands and takes it as an omen of good for the future the three of them can have. Upon arrival home, there is a young woman there, who is sick. Her name is Beloved. It comes about that Beloved appears to be the spirit that was chased from the house, but grown into a woman. Because this is a novel and because a spirit formed into a live human being just isn’t natural, of course things go horribly awry.

This is a book about slavery. This is a book about the power of hope and love and where that power can lead when that love and hope are warped beyond measure by something as ugly as being owned by another human. You can find hope in Beloved but it doesn’t jump from the page. Rather, it sneaks in the cracks and around the corners. The characters have it but squash it.

This is a book about memory. About how memories can entrap us, can impale us and can suffocate us. But it is also a book about how we can entrap ourselves by choice in a memory, while lying and saying we are free as birds.

This book is haunting. It lingers around you even after you’re done, and whispers to you even before you’re done.

Hope everyone has had a great weekend!

 

In which I interview Gay Degani, author of Rattle of Want

Today, we are doing something a little different than normal. But, not entirely out of the ordinary for us.

First, the backstory: anyone that knows me as a reader or reads this blog on a consistent basis knows of the special place short stories hold in my heart. A few weeks ago, Dave messaged and asked if I would like to interview a fellow author, Ms. Gay Degani. I loved both prior interviews I had with both Dave himself, and Jeremy Morong (*waves, hi Jeremy!*) so I immediately and without hesitation said yes, yes, I would.

I am so, so excited I did. I made contact with Gay, and we quickly bonded over a love for audio books and certain books in general. Then she provided me with a copy of Rattle of Want and I set to work reading. It really did not take long. And, I was blown away. I emailed her back and told her that even though I had rarely written creatively in years, the way her stories flowed and the way she told them made me want to pick up a pen and start writing again. All of them had a sense of expectation to them, a sense of loss, and a sense that the world is more poetry than we give it credit for being. This is a book that I feel anyone can relate to one or more of the stories, as they deal with a lot of what it means to be a human in this world, alive and full of wants and needs.

Anyway, the majority of my interview with Ms. Degani dealt with reading, since you know, that is what a lot of of this blog is about. But there are a few questions in there about her writing as well. If you want to know more about Gay, please go to her website gaydegani.com, in which you can see the full and complete literary life she leads, that I don’t touch much on in this interview.

 

1.  In the author bio for Rattle of Want, it says you left writing to the side for years. During this time did you keep reading for pleasure? Did you do any form of writing? Letters? Journals?

I’ve always read and always written, the reading constant, the writing, well, hit and miss.  Reading is what I love to do and all it requires of me is to show up.  Writing is more difficult, or rather, writing for publication is what is challenging.

My parents read to me, Heidi, Old Yeller, Hans Brinker until I was old enough to read myself.  I remember my dad took me to the library and had me pick out books. I had no idea what to choose and when we got home, the whole enterprise felt to hard.  I pretended to read. The next time we went, my dad asked the librarian to find me books. She gave me Squanto and I loved it. I’ve read voraciously ever since.

2. List YOUR top ten favorite books. If you can’t think of ten, list as many as you can. Explain any of them that you’d like. 

This is not an easy thing to do; there are so many.  Squanto, Little Women, Heidi, Call of the Wild, Tom Sawyer, Johnny Tremain, To Kill a Mockingbird, Jane Eyre, Tess of the D’Urbevilles, Ethan Frome, Count of Monte Cristo, The Foundation Series by Isaac Asimov, anything by Zane Gray, Nine Coaches Waiting, Rebecca, Tom Ripley, anything from Agatha Christie, Stone Diaries, Angle of Repose, Nat Turner, Affliction,1000 Acres, I, Claudius, Claudius The God,  We Were the Mulvaneys, Cat’s Eye, Accidental Tourist, House of Sand and Fog, Atonement, White Teeth….

Okay, I’m trying to remember them in some kind of timeline order, and I’ve left out lots of favorites, but this gives the range of what I like, fiction, non-fiction, biography, history, and of course,I’m a bit of an anglophile. I have a whole thing about the Wars of the Roses.

***(fyi, Gay, I didn’t notice originally, but it is nice to see someone else list We Were the Mulvaneys and Atonement in their list of favorites!! We shall have to talk those too at some point)*** (this is me deciding to leave a note to her on the blog versus sending an email. You are welcome for the interruption).

3. When actively in the middle of writing a story, do you have to avoid reading or listening to other stories?

I never avoid “reading” under any circumstance.  Mostly I listen  and have for years.  I walk around with a dorkie fanny pack and earbuds. Right now I’m listening to The Virgin’s Lover by Philippa Gregory. I have Tami Hoag, Laura Lippman, Michael Connolly, and David McCullough checked out of the library. Reading paper books is reserved for books I read from my friends.

4. How did you decide the stories in Rattle of Want all belonged together in one volume? Or was it just a gathering of all of them out there?

It was an extended process.  First I went through to find all my stories that I considered the best.  I’d published some in a chapbook calledPomegranate and wanted to include the stories from there that had either won a prize or had not been published elsewhere. Then I took a class with Randall Brown where we tried to figure out what worked the best together.  I owe the title Rattle of Want to him. He gleaned it from one of my stories, and I am ever grateful.  Once the title was decided on, I went through to find stories that lent themselves to that idea. For me, most of them did. Part of that is that I believe it’s important to write stories about people who want something, strive for it, and either succeed or fail.

5.  Most of your stories seemed to me to deal with loss on some level, from big to the tiny little losses that life provides daily. Did you set out with that specific theme in mind?

I don’t know if I exactly set out to write about loss, but loss creates strong emotions in people and the response characters have to loss resonates with all of us.

6.  A lot of the stories take place in the past. Are there bits and pieces of your childhood scattered about?

I draw a lot on past experiences.  Some of what I write comes from a specific incident in my life, but usually with raised stakes. I’ve lived a very ordinary life and though I’ve experience a full range of emotional set-backs, they serve more as research than actual reportage. This is why I don’t write memoir.  I don’t want to bore people to death.

7. Favorite place to read? Why?

Mostly I read “on the go.” I listen to books on CD when I do dishes, mop the floor, water the pots on the patio, drive in car, take a daily walk, any possible place that has a repetitious element to it. I would love to have the luxury of curling up on the sofa and reading all day as I did as a child and teenager, but that just isn’t practical for me.

Pay attention to this following question, audiobook lovers, you may have just found your next listen! (And Davina Porter does narrate all of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series).

9. List 3 audiobooks you have loved partly due to the reader.

Davina Porter is outstanding.  She does Elizabeth George’s books.  I think she does all the Diana Gabaldon books.  If not, I like that reader also. I can’t remember who reads the John Sandford books but he’s excellent as is the one who does Jack Reacher. I like Ian Rankin’s reader too.


10. Do you feel listening to an audiobook still qualifies as reading? (This is pretty contested in some parts).

I have a friend who once told me audio books were “cheating?” Er, uh, no.  Stories were spoken before they were written down. And isn’t it just as good to listen as to read? Good writing is about putting pictures in your head, involving you in an experience that you might have or not have yourself, and making your think about your life, the lives of others, and the human condition.  What does it matter what the vehicle is?

11. In your opinion, deeper than entertainment value, why do you think people are drawn towards literature? (Even popular fiction) what do you believe they’re looking for?

When any one asks if I practice a religion, I tell them I belong to the church of literature.  Most of what I know, feel, and care about came to me through books.

12. Favorite snack while reading or writing. 

I like to have ice tea when I’m writing.  But when I’m hungry, I usually stop and eat lunch (grilled cheese, hot dog,  or apple cut up in cottage cheese). Since most of my reading isn’t sitting down, I might make an english muffin or eat a piece of fruit.

13. What’s next on your horizon? What (in broad outline not specifics!) are you working on next?

I’d like to finish my prequel to my suspense novel, What Came Before. I’d like to write another stand alone mystery.  Don’t think I can commit to write a series.  Home life is too, too busy. Continue to write flash and short stories. In my head, I have a trilogy about my family who came from France in the 1700s first in Quebec and then Louisiana, and I have two longer short stories I’ve been waiting to get good enough to write.

14. What book(s) do you find yourself re reading multiple times? Why?

There are a couple of books I’ve read a few times, but not many.  I don’t really do multiples.  I’m sure I’ve read Little Women maybe three times, Jane Eyre, Tale of Two Cities, probably twice at least. Ethan Frome because I taught it five or six. There’s too much to read out there.  I want to read all the good ones at least once and then I’ll start over.

And this is all for today. I want to give Gay a huge thank you for allowing Dave and myself to interview her for 11 And A Half Years of Books, and for her taking the time amidst a very busy schedule to answer my various emails and then finally my questions. Please, do check out her website at gaydegani.com and also check out Rattle of Want, I promise you will not regret it.

Not Quite So Stories by…..

DAVID S. ATKINSON.

Today, I am talking about Dave’s new book, just out. The title is “Not Quite So Stories”. This is Dave’s third book to be released. You can see me talk about the previous two, here and here. I loved Bones Buried in Dirt and The Garden of Good and Evil Pancakes, as you can see in those blog posts I linked to.

Like I texted Dave on Thursday, while I did love both of those books, I LOVE Not Quite So Stories. I think it is one of the best contemporary short story collections I’ve read in a very long time.

Here are my reasons for loving these stories. Loving with a capital L of course:

  1. These stories often are about “normal” life (a housewife displaying some classic OCD symptoms getting through her highly regimented day) with something “surreal” mixed into it (the prisons in the area are overpopulated so by lottery, certain citizens have been chosen to board prisoners in their homes for a month) and the result of the blending (a square is drawn with a grease pencil on an immaculate kitchen floor and a prisoner is deposited into the square to stand there while the woman goes about her day). The stories are both important for the characters in them (who is this housewife? How does she cope with changes in her day?) and for the blend of surreal (how does she deal with a prisoner left without guard in her kitchen?). Dave has stitched together stories where you can’t even tell where the surreal has been attached into the ordinary. Dave makes it easy to climb right into the tapestry of the story that he’s woven. There is no reason to suspend any disbelief. You have none while reading one of these stories.
  2. Who wouldn’t love a story about a hotel in Europe that had to figure out a way in today’s world to set themselves apart, so did so by creating a rate in which they intentionally disrupt and disturb their patrons? You just have to read it. Anyone that has travelled to Europe, or anyone that has really just traveled anywhere that involved staying in a smaller hotel or b&b will recognize and get a kick out of the story.
  3. These stories cover my requirement for a good story. But they also leave you thinking about a certain convention or more (more as in cultural standard/law, not as in the adjective) in a way you previously didn’t. Like a spouse battle over toilet paper and the correct way to place it on the holder. Or a person picking out a plot and paying for its maintenance past their death.
  4. These stories are tight. You can tell the amount of work that went into polishing them. The care and love that went into these stories shines through.
  5. For me, some short story collections are best read cover to cover. Others are best parceling out bit by bit. Dave has hit my happy medium in which either method works great for reading them. This is why I was late in posting because I started to read and realized I wanted to experience them both ways, reading a few in a turn, then just one, then a few, then just one. These would be great for any reader you know that doesn’t have a lot of time in their day to read but wants to have something good for when they do get a few free minutes. But it’d also be good for that reader you know that devours everything that comes their way.

I am directing you now to where you can purchase Not Quite So Stories so that you can go and buy it. Now. You can buy at B&N or Amazon.

Have a great rest of your weekend!!

 

Native Son by Richard Wright

For today, I read Native Son by Richard Wright. I think this is one that is part of some high school curriculums and possibly college, but I never ran into it as more than just knowing it was a book, that it was about a black man in the 1930s and that it was by Richard Wright. So, when I saw a deal for it for Kindle (1.99) I knew it would be my next book for the blog (contingent upon Dave not insisting he wanted to read it and us having to come to blows over the whole thing.)

Bebe Moore Campbell (which I’ve never noticed before has the same names as me, just reversed. No, I didn’t hyphenate, Campbell is now a middle name with the SSA office. Everyone asks) listed this in her top ten. Ken Kalfus did as well.

So, the main character of Native Son is Bigger Thomas. He’s a 20 year old man who is always seething in some way. He says at the beginning of the book that he feels something horrible is just waiting to happen to him. He runs around drinking, sleeping with a woman named Bessie and participating in petty thievery with her and a few of his friends. He lives in a tiny one room apartment with his brother, sister and mother. And for some reason, wordpress is putting a red underline now under everything I am typing as if I have done something wrong. It’s driving me nuts. Just a FYI.

His family has been receiving the “dole” (welfare in common terms) and have been told that Bigger must take a job that they find for him or they will remove the family from receiving it. Bigger doesn’t want a job. He doesn’t really know what he wants, he wants freedom, he wants a chance to explore the world, be a part of it. Not just be a part of a system designed to keep him down. But his mother convinces him to take a job offered to him.

A philanthropist millionaire needs a driver. His previous one has retired after ten years with the family. They paid for him to go to night school and encouraged him to get an education. Now, he wants to give another black kid the chance to do the same.

Bigger is intimidated by the way the family, which includes the millionaire, his wife and their 21 year old daughter treat him. The first time Mary, the daughter, meets him she gets in his face and wants to know if he’s in a labor union. That night, he is required as chauffeur to drive her to an event she is attending. However, the event doesn’t exist or if it did, Mary had no intention on going. She met up with Jan, a Communist and her boyfriend. She tells Bigger she wants to know what a Negro experiences, she wants to find out all about them, to see into their homes. Jan and Mary make Bigger take them to an all black restaurant on his side of town. They sit in the front with him, they make him eat at the same table as him. He is intensely uncomfortable with this. He resents them for it.

Later that night, while helping Mary into her room and into bed, he finds himself groping her. He later explains that he felt like white people expect all black men to want white women desperately. Then, her mother, who is blind comes into the room. In a panic, Bigger attempts to keep Mary quiet from her drunken mutterings, terrified her mother will find him. He kills her by accident.

The rest of the story is about what happens next.

I thought Native Son was compelling and beautiful in many places. I couldn’t tell how I felt about Bigger half the time. Some of the thoughts he has and some of his lack of feelings of guilt and remorse, and his feeling of freedom from having murdered makes me not like him. At other times though, my empathy for the struggle he was going through prior to the murder and then in the what happens next, made me like him a bit.

In a way, I don’t feel qualified to be writing an in depth analysis of Native Son. I feel like that’s akin to Mary sticking her face in Bigger’s and wanting to know all about the “Negro experience”.

I do think that the whites of this country delude ourselves into thinking racism doesn’t exist. I think it’s ridiculous how we do it. Yes, we no longer think black men can’t keep their hands off white women, we no longer lynch black men, we no longer refer to black people as “apes”, we no longer make them stop schooling at young ages. But, through my 30s I saw more and more evidence that racism is still alive and thriving in the United States. It’s in our general attitudes about welfare recipients, even in the face of statistics that show that just as many white people use benefits. Yet, politicians and people continue to bring up “welfare queens”. Which Reagan coined. Reagan also referred to “young bucks using welfare to buy themselves steaks”. On slave auction posters, young men were referred to as “young bucks”.Current politicians like to harp on single black mothers raising kids, and how they should really be coming from two parent households. It’s in white women drawing their purses closer to their bodies upon seeing a black man (this actually happened to fellow students of mine in Seward, NE). It’s in so many people refusing to believe that a black man could be President, he just has to be illegally so (no one said anything about Ted Cruz until Donald Trump challenged him, and he was not born in the United States, as Obama was. Bernie Sanders came from Polish immigrants to this country and no one has questioned his citizenship). It’s in the media calling a demonstration that is mostly peaceful, with just a few unruly members in Baltimore a riot. It’s in white people whining about reverse racism. A character in the book who is of the Communist party pegs it as fear. Which is true. I can speak to that as a white person and my observations, deep down whites exist in a state of guilt, shame and fear about what happens in this country. They react with anger. And I know some people will tell me “Nuh uh! I don’t. I just think Obama is a shit President, I believe that police have been in the right in every shooting they do. I think that as a white person I am always discriminated against.” You can feel that if you want, I won’t try to argue you out of it (so please, no need to comment on it, all inflammatory comments about the subject will be deleted and/or ignored). I can only speak from my own experiences and my own observations.

Richard Wright did a beautiful job drawing a reader into Bigger’s mind, into his soul. It brought me a little closer to understanding some things. But again, I feel in a way like Mary demanding to know more.

My one problem with the book is it is stated more than once in the book that Bigger had to stop school at the eighth grade. There’s no indication that he is an avid reader (though at the beginning of the book he is hungering to buy a magazine). Yet, he reads newspaper accounts of the murder and subsequent events with no problem at all. While it’s not completely out of the ordinary that he could read that well after 8th grade, it is a little odd for the most part.

Read this book. Stuff said in it still resonates and rings true today. And, it’s also important I think to really get a sense of what it was like in the 1920s and 1930s. It’s our history as a nation. Wright does an amazing job of bringing it to life.

Have a great weekend!

Anton Chekhov & His Short Stories

For today, I read some of Anton Chekhov’s short stories. Now, when Dave and I run across “short stories by…” in Top Ten, it creates a bit of a problem. It never gives a definitive list of which ones. And, by that I mean that often there are multiple editions out, ones that have 15 of the author’s stories, ones that have every word that ever dripped out of the author in them, ones that only have 30, et cetera.

For me, I tend to just pick the book that I feel would be the most representative, sometimes all of them, sometimes less. Sometimes it’s about what book of them I can find and about how the book itself looks (if it has microscopic print, I will go for the one with bigger print because, well it’s more pleasant to read that way).

This collection had approximately 30 of Chekhov’s stories in it.  He has more. But, I always figure that reading even 20 or 30 of a prolific author’s short stories gives you a fairly decent idea of the author’s work.

Chekhov had quite a few fans in Top Ten. The following authors all listed him: Stanley Crawford, Mary Gaitskill, Allan Gurganus, Kent Haruf, Elizabeth Hay, Ha Jin, Valerie Martin, David Means, Susan Minot, David Mitchell, Stewart O’Nan, Roxana Robinson, Arthur Phillips, Francine Prose, George Saunders, Jim Shepard.

If you like short stories and have yet to read Chekhov, go and read him. His short stories are…simple. But, I say simple and realize it seems like I’m calling them stupid. This is not stupidity. His stories don’t have a lot of adornment. There’s no shiny thing yelling “LOOK OVER HERE WHILE THE MAN IN THE HAT DOES SOMETHING OVER THERE” in order to deliver a twist at the end. There’s no pages and pages of description that doesn’t fit into the story. He’s not as spare as Hemingway, but there’s no part of one of his stories that I read that I felt didn’t need to be there.

Chekhov writes what I call “slice of life” pieces. His characters run the gamut from a young woman who finds her living spaces by serving students until they tire of her to a professor at a college near the end of his life. There’s no pretentious morality about his pieces either. He’s not afraid to say that a character had a child out of wedlock or to have one of his characters detail his infidelity with a neighbor’s wife. But he is discreet. There is no singular tone to his stories either. There’s a similar flavor to all of them, but they didn’t run together at all when I was reading them. And, that’s even more amazing since I was reading on my Kindle and my brain doesn’t always process “classics” as well on Kindle as in print.

Please read Chekhov’s stories.

Dave will be with you for the next two weeks, not because I need him to fill in at the last minute (for once!) but because he is reading a two book series (I think it’s 2 books). See everyone in 3 weeks!

Short Stories & Stephen King

As anyone that has read Dave and my blog with any regularity knows, I’m a Stephen King fan. He is kind enough to release a book (most years) right around my birthday. This year it was The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, a collection of short stories. He releases one of these every few years. It was a really great collection of short stories, in my opinion. The stories ranged from Twilight Zone twisty (Premium Harmony) to the downright give you chills along your spine (Bad Little Kid) to one connected to his Tower series (Ur). So, really, any of his writing that is your favorite, you will find something in here to make you happy.

But, while reading The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, which I had interrupted my reading of 100 Years of the Best American Short Stories edited by Lorrie Moore for, I started thinking about short stories. And I decided I wanted to write a blog post on short stories for today.

I love short stories. I’ve always loved short stories and on here I have reviewed a few different ones over the last 3 years, including Flannery O’Connor, Ernest Hemingway, Jeremy Morong‘s collection of stories that just came out recently (look Jeremy! Your name is listed with O’Connor’s and Hemingway’s!), and one on Stephen King’s Top Ten, called The Golden Argosy (out of print, so if you find a copy for cheap, grab it, I’ll pay you back!).

People keep saying “Oh no! The short story is dead! Don’t write a short story!”, but while it might not be the premier form of entertainment anymore (at the turn of the century, when Best American Short Stories debuted, many Americans saw short stories as a perfect entertainment), it most certainly has not died. In mainstream publishing, you will see few collections, but I have run across a few over the years that aren’t from authors that are big name like Joyce Carol Oates and Stephen King, and are in fact, first book authors. Now, from small press publishers, your ability to get short stories is much higher. In fact, your chances are quite excellent. If you have Dave on your Facebook, do not hesitate to drop him a line for some great small presses to check out or authors he recommends. If you don’t have his Facebook, feel free to leave a comment. One of us will respond with a list 🙂

Authors will say that short stories are often harder to write than a novel. In a short story, you don’t have the ability to digress. You have to keep everything streamlined, you have to be able to get it across in a limited amount of time, and you don’t have a lot of room for character development.

As a reader, I find short stories incredibly satisfying. I especially enjoy anthologies of short stories. Anthologies have a lot of different authors in them, so there are a lot of different genres, tones, styles of writing. And you get to sample all of them. If you don’t like one that you’ve started, you can skip it and you haven’t ruined the reading experience (if you try to skip, say Hugo’s section on argot in Les Miserables, you miss a few details you should probably have). But, it’s also fun reading a single author’s collection of short stories, like Jeremy’s that I mentioned above. You can get a feel for the author, and it’s interesting to see the different ways they use the stories to play with structure, with characters and with tone.

I recently ordered Harper’s when my daughter was selling magazines. My main reason? Each issue they publish has a short story in it.

Now, another thing people that have read this blog know, is that Dave has published two novels previously. In March, he has a third book coming out. This isn’t just a statement out of nowhere. It actually fits into the theme of the rest of this post. The book is titled Not Quite So Stories and as the title suggests is actually a collection of short stories. I’m excited for Dave, as he has actually published quite a few short stories in different literary publications over the years, so to see him able to have an actual entire book of them out makes me almost squee happy. (Note I said almost, not quite). You can pre-order his book on Amazon.

100 Years of The Best American Short Stories is a great collection as well. Every year for the last 100 years, an anthology called “The Best American Short Stories” has been published, in which the editors read hundreds of stories from dozens of sources and pick the ones they feel are best. The 100 Years collection is a story from each year. It’s got a lot of authors you’ve heard of, like Hemingway and O’Connor, but a few of them are ones you haven’t really heard of or haven’t heard of at all, like Tillie Olsen (well, some of you might have heard of her, I had not). A lot of different styles and types of stories are represented in this volume. It gives you a chance to try out an author that you’ve maybe heard about before but never picked up a novel of theirs to see if you might want to read more by them, like Phillip Roth.

The next time you’re looking for something new to read, please give a collection of short stories a try. Start with Jeremy’s, especially if you’re an Omaha native, then move on to others. And in March, get Dave’s.

I currently have I’m a Little Teapot stuck in my head. My daughter is in cleaning her room and in between coming out five million times and asking how much longer she needs to be in there keeps singing it. While not quite as annoying as it was to have “Do you want to build a snowman” stuck in my head last year, it’s pretty irritating. Like sand in your bathing suit.

Have a great Thanksgiving!

 

 

The Awakening by Kate Chopin

For this week, I read The Awakening by Kate Chopin.

I had read this book once before, eons ago in a class that was centered on novels from the 20th century. I didn’t remember the plot really, more that I wasn’t overly fond of it.

This time around, I enjoyed it a bit more. I wouldn’t list it automatically in my re-read pile but it has a power to it.

Edna, the main character, is a 28 year old New Orleans “society” wife with two young children. During a summer holiday (one in which the woman and family stays in a place all the time and the husbands travel down on the weekends) she falls in love, though she doesn’t recognize it at first as such. The novel was written in 1899, so one can imagine the consequences of falling in love with a man not your husband are very different than it would be today. The book was shocking at the time and banned and censored. There is nothing terribly shocking in it today, but back then, for a book to portray a woman in a manner in which she becomes aware of herself, her power, and defies societal “norms” because she wants to, well….how…SCANDALOUS!

Sue Monk Kidd listed this in her top ten.

A couple of different things to note:

  1. If you have read this book, you know the ending, but I’m not going to say it for anyone that still remains interested in reading it. But! Towards the beginning there is a lot written by Chopin about the water, and the waves and how Edna feels in the water. And, I’m sure now, in literature classes or book club discussions, this is talked about possibly as foreshadowing, possibly as metaphor. There’s something that bugs me sometimes though about “literary” discussions of books.  Did Chopin -mean- for that to be significant? Or was she just writing about the water, the ocean, because the vacation was at the seaside and the ocean played a part in what Edna did and what she felt at the time? Do authors mean half the things we later take them to mean? Or are they just telling a story? I know there are a lot of authors out there that do mean to put stuff like that in, or write a novel merely to play with a narrative style. But, sometimes, can’t a story just be a story? Does it have to have deeper symbolism purposefully put in there? Most things will have deeper meaning, we’re humans, we’re layered and complex. So, stories by us and about us will by default have these things.
  2. In Persuasion last week, there was a friend of the main character whom was very poor and ill and had her own private rooms. Edna also had a friend (not ill, but very cranky and anti social) with her own private rooms. Both women went to these places to visit their friend and would leave with a deeper understanding about something or someone. Was this a common literary device in the 1800s? I mean, there’s symbolism to this, for sure. But again, is it meant symbolism? Or just a neat literary way to have the characters learn things?

These were my deep literary thoughts for the day.  Sorry that I didn’t write more about the plot, but it’s a rich little book (it’s not long at all) that is easy to read. I actually bought a copy of it at Half Price because it was on the 1.00 rack, and I won’t be getting rid of it but keeping it. Which is the next best thing to being on my re-read list because it means there’s a possibility of a re-read.

Have a great weekend everyone!

(Oh and check out Dietland, a recently published book. It’s pretty amazing.)

Persuasion by Jane Austen

For today, I read Persuasion by Jane Austen. Kate Atkinson, Julian Barnes, Mary Gordon, Elizabeth Hay, Valerie Martin and Ann Patchett all listed this in their top ten lists.

I am here to make a confession to you. I’m not very fond of Jane Austen. I know this is weird to hear someone who is literary who is also a woman admit. It appears sometimes that women who read literature just simply, must adore Jane Austen. I don’t. I find Pride and Prejudice a little tedious, and Mr. Darcy does very little for me. I’m hoping no one decides to take away my “avid reader” card for this admission.

Persuasion proved to me yet again why I’m not overly fond of Austen.

Most of her characters tend to be very unlikeable people. And while I know that’s sort of her point, it still becomes tiresome to have over 80% of the people in a book you’re reading be so obviously disliked by the author of the book. In Persuasion, the main character is Anne Elliot. The unlikeable people in the book are Anne’s father and two sisters. Her father cares nothing for Anne and everything for the fair and delightful Elizabeth. Elizabeth is snooty and conscious of her father’s favor, so therefore dotes on him and thinks very little of Anne (often even saying things right in front of Anne to indicate how little she is regarded). Anne’s sister Mary is a selfish, spoiled, hypochondriac who is passive aggressive and feels the need to be the center of attention at all times. She’s not shy about forcing this on people either. Then there’s Lady Russell (who possibly isn’t meant to be unlikeable but ends up so), the family friend whom Anne is close to since the rest of her family are essentially worthless. Lady Russell was a dear friend of Anne’s deceased mother. She is judgmental about those she feels are beneath the Elliots (who are a minor form of nobility) and manipulates things for Anne’s “best interests” but really are just her interests in keeping Anne close to her and dependent upon her company. Then Austen has her “good hearted and kind but sort of simple minded” folk in the Musgroves, Mary’s husband’s family. Everyone from the Navy in here are shown as being great people, even while being looked down on by Anne’s father and the esteemed Elizabeth. Then, of course, there is the love interest. Captain Wentworth, whom years ago was in love with Anne and she with him (she was 19) but Anne broke off the relationship upon the advice of Mrs. Russell who felt that Captain Wentworth (who was not a Captain then, not really anything at that point) was unsuitable as a match for the Elliots. He went away bitter and sad and became wildly successful in the Navy, and making gads of money. He is portrayed as being good and kind and smart and steadfast. He isn’t a brooder like Mr. Darcy.

Now, I will admit to the plot being a good one. Captain Wentworth and Anne part, 9 years previously. Then, at the time of the story Anne’s father, who with Elizabeth has spent a lot of their money pretending to be even more important than they are must rent out the family home. Which they do. To Captain Wentworth’s sister and her husband (an Admiral). Anne, is of course, all a-flutter as she has never lost her feelings for Wentworth. However, Lady Russell wants her to stay with her while dear dad and sister retire to Bath, but alas, the dear woman can’t keep Anne as her obedient lapdog because she just simply has too many places to be. So, at this point, Mary puts in her whiny plea for attention, simply begging Anne to come and stay with her and her family. Anne does so. Captain Wentworth begins to pay visits to Charles (Mary’s husband) family, including Charles’ two sweet, goodhearted (but a little simple, remember?) sisters. Anne fights off the green monster of jealousy (which being the paragon of goodness that she is, she mostly succeeds). It appears that Wentworth is going for one of the sisters, when they go on an overnight trip to Lyme (the Musgrove girls, Charles, Wentworth, Anne and her sister, Mary) and a terrible accident happens (coincidentally they’ve met up with two other Captains of the Navy who are just simply fine and wonderful men). After this, Anne’s time at Mary’s is up and she must trot back to Mrs. Russell’s side in Bath. There has begun to be hints of Wentworth thawing towards her and his possibly still also having feelings for her (of which she becomes even more a-flutter but being the paragon of goodness she is, successfully hides this from everyone in order to not hinder his match with the Musgrove girl). Her cousin, her father’s heir, in the meantime has shown up in Bath, and has reconciled himself to the family (previously, they felt he didn’t want anything to do with them) and Elizabeth and Daddy are just simply enamored of him now. He sets his sights for Anne, but she never quite trusts him. Then! Hark! Wentworth shows up in Bath. And so it goes from there.

While at some points just a tiny bit predictable (women authors have been emulating Austen for 200 years, really), I did enjoy the story itself. However, I also didn’t like Anne very much. I’m sure Austen meant to portray her as likeable, but she just…was too good to be believable.

So, I found it both a little tedious to read and a little enjoyable to read.

If you are an Austen fan, and have not read Persuasion, I would then highly recommend it to her. I am not putting down anyone that likes Austen. I just happen to not like her a lot. I actually enjoyed this way more than I remembered enjoying Pride and Prejudice or Sense and Sensibility. (Though, I do remember enjoying Northanger Abbey a lot).

But, because of this blog, you will get to hear me talk about Austen and her unlikeable characters again! Soon enough.

The Professor’s House by Willa Cather

Way back at the genesis of this blog (3 years ago :O ) Dave and I discussed a few of the books we wanted or didn’t want to read.  Willa Cather’s books (specifically My Antonia) were at the top of my do not read under any circumstances list.  As I explain here.  Yet, I’ve already blogged My Antonia, and now I decided to read another Cather book.  Sometimes, life and literature just prove us wrong.  I just had a discussion today about this while talking about Grapes of Wrath, and how because of this blog I read both it and East of Eden and loved both of them.  That, in high school, I had to read Of Mice and Men and didn’t particularly care for it, so it made me not that interested in Steinbeck and his works.  Again, proven wrong.

Both Elisabeth Spencer and Peter Cameron listed The Professor’s House in their Top Tens.

Anyway, to me, reading this book showed me just how talented Cather was.  This book is nothing like My Antonia, even the feel of it is different.  Her narrative style is different as well.  It reminds me more of British stories from around this time frame (1920s) than it reminds me of My Antonia.

That being said, I can’t say that I was blown away by this book on the whole.  It was entertaining, and it was an easier read, but a lot of the books I’ve read for this blog have a deeper impact on me, like there’s a certain heft to them (and not just the literal heft and slog of Les Miserables).  Maybe Dave can agree or disagree with that statement.  This felt like…just a book.  I’ve read books for the blog that I disliked, but they still had that heft to them.

The story is about a man, who is older with two grown daughters, married for 30 years.  He and his wife are finally moving house because he managed to publish a multi volume series on Spanish explorers, that actually found a market and brought in a tidy sum of money.  One of his daughters has become quite wealthy with her husband, due to a dead fiancee’s invention and subsequent patent that she inherited after he died in the Great War.  Professor St. Peter refuses to leave the office in his old house, even going so far as renting the house for another year, just so he can keep his study.  He even insists that the seamstress, whom he shared the attic room with, leave her dress forms there.  The book gives you the sense that St. Peter was a very active man:

“St. Peter had always laughed at people who talked about “day-dreams,” just as he laughed at people who naively confessed that htey had “an imagination.” All his life his mind had behaved in a positive fashion.  When he was not at work, or being actively amused, he went to sleep.  He had no twilight stage.”

But as time passes in the year that this book covers, St. Peter sinks deeper into introspection.  There seems to be a sense of mourning too for Outland, his daughter’s fiancee, whom was also a bit of a protegee of his and a close friend of the family even before his engagement to St. Peter’s daughter.  The story breaks away and tells some of Outland’s story too.  There is a definite sense of loss in both narratives.

St. Peter’s increasing lassitude for life is something he even expresses to his wife:

“My dear,” he sighed when the lights were turned on and they both looked older, “It’s been a mistake, our having a family and writing histories and getting middle-aged.  We should have been picturesquely shipwrecked together when we were young.”

And she later expresses it back to him:

“You are not old enough for the pose you take.  That’s what puzzles me.  For so many years you never seemed to grow at all older, though I did.  Two years ago you were an impetuous young man.  Now you save yourself in everything.  You’re naturally warm and affectionate; all at once you begin shutting yourself away from everybody.”

There is one thing about the book that is lingering with me however and keeps poking at me to mention it during writing this post.  I loved how Cather resolved the story for St. Peter, but she didn’t feel a need to run along resolving all the story lines in the book into neat and tidy little bows.  The now wealthy sister’s increasing miserly nature and, to be blunt, bitchiness.  The professor who also helped Outland being cheated out of a portion of the patent money.  The non wealthy sister feeling more and more alienated from her sister.  These are all things that Cather leaves alone.  Which, to me, since the book was about St. Peter’s internal life, is the sign of an amazing author.  I don’t know whether she had the temptation to just go along and tidy those things into little piles and resolve them all, but I can’t imagine there wouldn’t have just been at least a tiny urge to, say have the sisters have one big mighty show down, or to say whether Crane (the professor) gets any money at all.

A minor theme in the book is how money changes things, and changes people (if you haven’t gotten that hint yet).  Which Cather glances on but doesn’t dwell on really.

If you loved My Antonia, or if you have ever enjoyed some good turn of the 20th century British literature, definitely check out this book.  Or if you’re just bored and looking for something to read, check out this book.